Can I Get Social Security Disability for Depression and Anxiety?
You may be able to get SSDI for severe depression and anxiety, if you can prove your symptoms are truly disabling. We explain the steps you must take to have your case approved if you are qualified.
Winning a successful disability claim on the basis of depression or anxiety is difficult, unless your symptoms are severe and you can prove they are debilitating enough to interfere with your work and personal life.
Documentation could include medical treatments and consultations from recognized medical practitioners and facilities, a treatment history for your symptoms, and a work record which reflects a disrupted work schedule due to your medical condition. Below are several approaches to supporting your claim.
The Effects of Depression and Anxiety
Depression and anxiety are terrible afflictions that can completely turn your life on its head. There are treatments for these illnesses, however often they become long, drawn out intervention plans that may not be completely effective. Dealing with such medical problems can be overwhelming, but adding financial pressures because of lost time at work or medical costs just make the situation worse. Nonetheless, there could be help in the way of payments to you through Social Security Disability.
Depression is the most common non-fatal medical condition leading to disability in America. The World Health Organization has identified depression as the number one cause of disability in the world with over 300 million sufferers.
Depression causes a person to feel a significant state of sadness, guilt, inadequacy, dejection, and despondency. Along with such feelings there maybe insomnia, restless sleep, lack of energy, reduced or no sexual desire, and appetite loss. These commonly accompany this condition.
Anxiety is another frequently seen emotional condition. It is similar to depression in that the symptoms may include a sense of foreboding, obsessive thoughts, fear, or panic. The symptoms could also include uncontrollable sweating, nausea, increased heart rate, or shaking.
Causes of Depression or Anxiety
Although it is not clear, family genes or other biological reasons may cause or influence depression. It is not uncommon to see these conditions shared by members of the same family.
Depression may be caused by expected changes in your life, such as divorce, a death, or a job change, however, these normally resolve themselves within a relatively short period. However, if such a severe mood lasts every day for two-weeks or longer, see a doctor as this may be a medically diagnosed condition of major clinical depression.
Anxiety may come for no apparent reason. If left untreated, the person may refuse to leave their home for fear of triggering an episode, for example. Both these conditions may prevent you from performing your normal work activities, your daily family responsibilities, or normal functions of your life.
There are five types of recognized anxiety disorders.
- Panic Attack
Repeated and unprovoked feelings of panic or terror lasting ten minutes or less. For approved Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits, the incidents must occur on the average of once per week.
- General Anxiety Disorder
Approximately six months of near constant state of worry, not related to a single event.
- Social Phobia/Anxiety
Irrational feelings making a person fearful of events, social settings, or objects leading the person to avoid them.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Witnessing or being a part of a traumatic situation which causes repeated bouts of stress which last more than one month.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Repetitive thoughts and feelings forcing the person to repeat a task or behavior over and over again. This must cause severe distress for a claim to be approved.
Social Security Disability Claim for Depression or Anxiety
Depression and anxiety can be difficult to prove because there is no laboratory test to establish these problems, so it becomes a subjective judgment. Experts must rely on a patient’s words to express their feelings; however there are a number of ways to make your claim more concrete.
The actual conditions of depression or anxiety do not concern the SSA nearly as much as how those conditions are impacting your ability to work. To be eligible for benefits, you must be prevented from engaging at a substantial gainful activity (SGA) during a continuous twelve month period. Another way of qualifying is if your health conditions are expected to prevent you from meeting the SGA for twelve consecutive months.
Substantial gainful activity is defined by the SSA as mental or physical impairments (either or both) that prevent you from performing the functional requirements of SGA.
Path of Your Claim
There are two methods for the SSA to make a determination on the validity of your claim for benefits. One method uses a Blue Book with various serious medical conditions and associated impairments. This provides a quick look for the Disability Examiner to assess whether you meet the requirements for depression or anxiety.
Using this method, you would need any four of the following impairments:
- Lack of energy
- Suppressed or enhanced appetite
- Lack of interest in general activities
- Difficulty in focusing on a task or in clear thinking
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lack in any physical activity
- Guilt or feelings with worthlessness, or
- Hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions
Coupled with these, there must be a lack of social interaction, problems with focusing, extended and reoccurring periods with symptoms becoming worse, and problems with activities of daily living (ADL).
The second method of obtaining an approval for your claim involves the issue of a Medical-Vocational Allowance.
The first assessment using this method on a new claim concerns the current income level for the SGA of the applicant. This figure may change every year. For 2017, the SSA has set the amount at $1,170 gross earned income per month and if you are blind the amount is $1,950. These figures also include income from self-employment. If you are earning this amount or more, filing a claim will not accomplish anything. Your claim would be almost immediately denied at the local office and not assigned a Disability Examiner for forwarding through the system. They call this a technical denial.
However, your status could change, for example if your health conditions become worse and you begin earning less than those threshold figures. In that case, filing a claim is appropriate.
The claim would then be sent for a medical decision to the disability agency at the state level. These are usually called Disability Determination Services. A specialist is assigned to evaluate the claim and is the Disability Examiner for your case.
This examiner will review your file and obtain the relevant medical records that were submitted during your initial interview. For a claim specifying depression or anxiety as a source, medical records from certified or licensed mental health professionals would be best. This could include records of examinations or treatments from psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health clinics, or hospitals.
Make certain your doctor’s report has sufficient details as to how your symptoms affect your daily life and how effective the treatment plan turned out to be. If you were prescribed medication but chose not to take it, the SSA may use this against approving your claim, however not being able to afford the medication would be an acceptable reason.
If your current doctors are licensed therapists or social workers, you should be aware the SSA can give opinions from those professionals less weight than certified psychiatrists or psychologists. During the time your claim is reviewed, carry on with your regular consultations and treatment plan to continue building your medical file.
Alcohol or drug problems can send your claim completely off course. The Disability Examiner (DE) may reach a conclusion your depression or anxiety is solely from that addiction. However, a statement from your doctor could help by saying the addiction is unrelated to your mental health. In addition, if you have a documented period when you were sober but still suffered from depression or anxiety, this would strengthen your case.
Even without such records, a claim could still be submitted and approved. The Disability Examiner would likely specify a one-time consultation to be completed by a doctor the SSA pays for and approves. The downside to this method is it is not likely to produce a favorable result for you as far as approving your claim. The reason is that the doctor will only be seeing you one time and will not really be able to determine how your condition limits your work activity.
To avoid having your case rely only upon the DE ordered exam, your best chance of winning a claim approval is with thorough documentation of examinations, consultations, medications, and a complete medical history of your condition. Couple those with all your work records showing how your work activity has been affected.
Criteria for Claim Approval
For the SSA to approve a claim for depression or anxiety, you must meet three criteria.
- You must suffer from an inability to function in the work environment even after a small change in routine or from small differences in mental demands.
- This non-functioning situation must last for an extended period.
- If you have a very supportive living arrangement and you are still unable to function at a normal level and there is no indication this will change.
Step-by-Step Medical-Vocational Approval
- You must not be earning the SGA level or above.
- The condition you suffer must be one which is medically diagnosable.
- If the condition is able to be diagnosed medically, is it severe or non-severe (such as a sprained ankle)?
- Your condition must have lasted at least two years.
- Your employment record will be analyzed to determine if you are able to return to any of your applicable jobs held previously by you in the last 15 years.
- If the answer is no, the SSA will seek to determine if there are other different jobs you would be suitable to perform based on your age, work history, education, skills, and your current physical and mental capacities.
If the answer to the last question is no, then the SSA may approve you for a Medical-Vocational Approval. This is the most common benefit approval in these types of situations.
The actual evaluation of your claim depends where in the process your claim is located. Either Disability Examiners or judges at a disability hearing will be the evaluators.
Your mental / physical limitations are evaluated in the following ways:
- Your work and earning history
- Your medical history
- Physical tests to determine your actual capacity for work
- Mental tests to determine your actual capacity for work
If benefits are approved, a hearing called a continuing disability review (CDR) may be conducted in the future to determine the validity of continuing the payments.
If your claim is ultimately denied, strongly consider getting the advice from an attorney who specializes in depression and anxiety disability claims. They could provide you with a professional opinion if an appeal would be worthwhile.